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Glee blog three of, I think, four.

Glee seems, in some ways, to be pretty invested in diversity. Certainly, the way people throw praise (accolades from GLAAD) and awards (a Diversity Award from the Multicultural Motion Picture Association) at them (and these are just the examples from the first page of Google results) suggests that his is a popular interpretation.

And indeed, the show has had, in various combinations over its run, some white-American kids, and some Jewish-American kids, and some Asian-American kids, and some African-American kids, and a Latina kid, and a kid in a wheelchair and some characters with Down syndrome, and a boatload of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning kids.

Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check.Let’s dust off our hands, our work here is done.

That is, Glee seems to be working with a sort of smorgasbord or checkbox model of difference. They have characters who differ with respect to the categories Americans generally recognize as important, and that is about as far as it goes.

Most notably, the show has gotten accolades and award statuettes for the way it deals with sexual orientation, and I actually don’t have a whole lot to dispute there. It’s a pretty narrow subset of LGB folks (and no transfolks), but there sure are a lot of them. The show is gay central (which has not escaped the attention of the right), and because at least one of the people in charge has had those experiences, it does an ok job of it.

And it’s true that they exhibit race in more than black and white, which is a definite improvement over the American TV standard, but they stop at (East) Asian and Latina/o. No Native kids. No Arab or Muslim kids. No South Asian kids (though there was one scripted, he got replaced with Kurt because a) Chris Colfer is just that awesome and b) Ryan Murphy saw himself in him—this is one place where we have gotten into trouble).

But just having characters who fit in those categories—checking off those boxes—isn’t enough. I mentioned offhand a couple weeks ago that Santana is periodically ethnic-ed up when the writers remember to break out their English-to-Spanish dictionary, and that’s really as far as it goes for any of the characters.

Granted, I haven’t yet seen the back half of season two, but I can’t think of a single episode dealing in depth with anybody’s racial or ethnic identity. It seems like the people who make Glee think of race or ethnicity as good only for a snappy one-liner.

Or, sometimes, it’s a minor plot point—like when Quinn was pregnant and craving bacon and Puck’s Jewish mother was appalled or Artie and Tina break up because Tina wants to date fellow Asian Mike (with whom she hooked up at “Asian Camp”—seriously?).

Of course, the ways in which Glee swings at equality and misses haven’t entirely escaped attention: Margaret Hartmann over at Jezebel discusses Why Glee Still Needs To Work On Diversity. Angry Asian Man calls the show out for the way that the Caucasian cast is made so much more central in plots and promotional materials. Even Jeff Field of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil rights argues that “‘Glee’ Loathes Diversity.”

As Hartmann’s article points out, it would be less annoying that Glee fails at doing diversity if it wasn’t so busy patting itself on the back for doing diversity. And this is where it becomes clear that Glee creator Ryan Murphy has Gay White Man Syndrome, and he has it bad.

This isn’t to hate on all gay white men. Some of my best friends are gay white men, to use that horrible, privilege- or prejudice-obscuring saying with tongue firmly in cheek. But Gay White Man Syndrome is a serious problem for that subset of the population of gay white men who have it.

When people have the Syndrome, they tend to mistake their experience of discrimination on the basis of their sexuality as interchangeable with all other ways that people are disadvantaged for the social categories of inequality to which they belong.

This is sort of like saying “I understand what it’s like to be discriminated against as a woman because I’m gay” or “I can’t be racist, I’m gay!”

When you put it this way, it sounds totally ridiculous, but it’s rarely expressed this way. Instead, there’s just an assumption of commonality of the experience of being outside the privileged norm, ignoring the ways in which being white and male are still pretty good cards to have in your hand.

And that’s sort of what happens in Glee. The people making the show apparently don’t know what they don’t know, so they proceed as if what they know is enough to allow them to successfully engage with all categories of social inequality.

It’s not. Props to them for having a cast in many hues, but simple presence is not enough.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] is, if Glee creator Ryan Murphy has a case of Gay White Man Syndrome, lots of fans and fan scholars have White Fan Syndrome, and we need to call it […]

  2. […] irony that it should be Glee, with its track record of supporting diversity (albeit in a sanctimonious, oversimplified way), that’s stomping on a small-scale music maker has also not escaped anyone. As Coulton complained […]

  3. […] who isn’t bodily normative is a good step, just like the show’s casting beyond black and white, discussed last week is a step […]

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